By Debbie Siegelbaum - 11/18/11 11:15 AM EST
Members from both parties on the Senate Armed Services Committee said the military option should not be ruled out in dealing with Iran as a nuclear threat.
Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats, drew support for his position from colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
“I agree with Lieberman that that has to be on the table, it has to be a consideration,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told The Hill.
Intelligence information indicates “Iran will have a nuclear capability and a delivery system that could reach Western Europe and [the] Eastern United States by 2015,” Inhofe added. “We have a really serious problem.”
Lawmakers cited last week’s report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which found credible evidence that Iran continues to pursue nuclear-weapon capability despite facing harsh sanctions from the United States and the European Union.
Calling the IAEA’s findings “chilling,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) this week publicly acknowledged the need to keep military intervention a credible option, albeit as a last resort.
Graham’s Republican colleague Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) echoed that viewpoint.
“I think it’s clear that most people believe, and I do too, that we should not rule out any option,” McCain said.
Those committee members who remained focused on ongoing economic sanctions also conceded that all avenues must remain open.
“We should try stricter sanctions and diplomatic efforts,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “I don’t think you can ever take military force off the table. That certainly shouldn’t be the first resort.”
Committee member Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) concurred.
“There are sanctions that are in place and they need to be vigorously supported,” he said. “And by doing that, perhaps we don’t have to deal with the rest of it.”
But, he noted, “everything’s always on the table when you’re dealing with Iran or other countries that are rogue.”
“I don’t want to prompt any action from Iran, but it is important that they understand that their achieving a nuclear weapon is contrary to the best interests of the United States and our allies.”
This stance was in marked contrast to recent comments made by fellow Democrats decrying the Obama administration’s refusal to remove military action against Iran from consideration.
“We’ve got enough wars,” Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told The Hill last week, while his colleague Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said he wants the military option off the table.
If sanctions are to prove effective in deterring Iran’s nuclear program, the United States must have greater cooperation from outside nations, lawmakers said.
“Our first step is to get the Russians and the Chinese to pose tougher sanctions,” McCain said. “They have been disgraceful in their conduct by not supporting greater sanctions.”
While Lieberman publicly addressed the possibility of military involvement in Iran, his office was quick to note that the senator views ongoing economic and diplomatic pressure as the preferable path forward.
Given that many sanctions are already in place and there is a diminishing number of remaining sanctions that nations could yet impose, the United States could eventually be faced with a difficult choice of “either Iran with the bomb or bombing Iran,” another Senate aide versed on the issue told The Hill.
The aide pointed out that even if the United States does pursue military involvement as a last resort, it would in no way resemble the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Instead, the United States would likely use a campaign of air strikes, a “much more limited duration and modest mission, targeting the nuclear program,” the aide said.
Such a strike would not, however, annihilate Iran’s nuclear program.
“It will set it back, it will put a couple more years on the clock, but it will not eliminate the problem forever,” the Senate aide said.
The threat of military involvement itself can be used as another weapon in the international diplomacy arsenal.
“If we are going to be able to convince the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions, having a very credible threat of military force is an important component of that larger strategy,” the aide said.
“One thing that keeps being overlooked when we talk about this is we have an ally in the Middle East called Israel,” Inhofe said. “I look at them as an ally in this and feel that somebody has to stop Iran from doing what Iran is doing right now.”
Inhofe hedged when asked if he supported an Israeli air strike.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to talk about decisions that would be made by Israel,” Inhofe said.
But, he added, “I just don’t recall in my experience in Washington any time that Israel has made a bad decision. I think they make good decisions and I trust their judgment.”
Graham also recognized the possibility of Israeli military intervention, but claimed that the matter might require greater might than Israel is able to offer.
“It would be better for the United States to use military force than Israel, if it were ever used, because we have more capability,” Graham told Fox News Tuesday.
Graham added that it would likely require more than one strike to hit Iran’s “redundant” nuclear sites, and hits on Iran’s army, navy and air force would be needed to “neuter this regime.”
As lawmakers looked to the future, the consensus appeared to be that no option could yet be ruled out in deterring Iran’s nuclear program.
“I think we need to do everything we can to stop their progress in their nuclear capability and their build-up that they’re going through right now,” Inhofe said. “And it can mean everything is on the table. Sure, we want the sanctions but we also want to be ready in case, as Lieberman says, it’s necessary to enter into it militarily.”